The JOURNEY OF HEMP – FROM OLDEST DOMESTICATED CROP IN THE WORLD – TO ITS DISCOVERY AND USE IN THE U.S.
Hemp’s first appearance in ancient CIVILIZATION
The first traces of hemp were found way back in 8000 BCE in Asian regions that are now Modern Day China and Taiwan. The oldest remnants discovered to date are hemp cords used in pottery and records that show that hemp seed and oil were used as food in China. When you consider that human agriculture started about 10,000 years ago, you can assume that hemp was one of the first agricultural crops.
Hemp spreads ACROSS CONTINENTS
Throughout history, hemp continued to spread across civilizations. Evidence of hemp material have been found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and later in South America. Several religious documents ranging from Hinduism to ancient Persian religions also mention hemp as a “Sacred Grass” or “King of Seeds”. Throughout generations, hemp was a key ingredient in everyday life, as it was used for many essentials like clothes, shoes, ropes and paper.
Valued as a staple crop BY OUR FOUNDING FATHERS
North America was first introduced to hemp in 1606. Ever since, American farmers grew hemp for many essential products, such as paper, lamp fuel, rope, ship sails. By the 1700s, farmers were legally required to grow hemp as a staple crop. Many of our founding fathers with plantations grew hemp, even advocating its uses and benefits. Most notably, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. (The permanent document was preserved on sheepskin for longevity.)
Interesting legislative facts OVER Past century
- 1916: USDA publishes findings showing hemp produces 4X more paper per acre than trees
- 1937: The Marijuana Tax Act placed a tax on all cannabis sales (including hemp), heavily discouraging production of hemp
- 1938: Popular Mechanics writes an article about how hemp could be used in 25,000 different products.
- 1942: Henry Ford builds an experimental car body made with hemp fiber, which is ten times stronger than steel
- 1942: USDA initiates the “Hemp for Victory” program – this leads to more than 150,000 acres of hemp production
- 1957: Farmers plant the last commercial hemp fields in the U.S. in Wisconsin
- 1970: The Controlled Substances Act classified hemp as an illegal Schedule I drug. Strict regulations imposed on the cultivation of industrial hemp as well as marijuana
- 1998: The U.S. begins to import food-grade hemp seedand oil.
- 2004: Ninth Circuit Court decision in Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA permanently protects sales of hemp foods and body careproducts in the U.S.
- 2007: The first hemp licenses in over 50 years granted to two North Dakota farmers.
- 2014: President Obama signed the Farm Bill, which allowed research institutions to start piloting hemp farming.
- 2015: The Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 525 and S. 134) introduced in the House and Senate. This act is the first of several attempts to fully legalize hemp.
- 2016: A Colorado farm has earned the Organic certification from USDA for its hemp
- 2018: After failed attempts to pass hemp-specific laws, an amendment to the Agricultural Improvement of 2018 (a.k.a. the “Farm Bill”) legalized hempin the U.S. Pres. Trump signs the bill into law on Dec 20, 2018. This amendment removed the hemp plant, along with any of its seeds and derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act. A huge win for the hemp industry!
MARIJUANA TAX ACT DISCOURAGES PRODUCTION
Although hemp was a big part of early US history, attitude towards the crop started to change in the early 1900s. When the US government increased its resolve to fight against drugs such as marijuana, hemp somehow got grouped with its cannabis cousin. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 started the major decline of the hemp industry, as all hemp sales started to get heavily taxed on. There has been some controversy over this bill, as some have argued that this policy was aimed to reduce the size of the hemp industry in order to help the emerging plastic and nylon industries gain market share.
U.S. REALIZES NEED FOR HEMP IN WWII
The United States reversed its stance in 1942 when they realized they needed hemp for the war effort. The Department of Agriculture started to heavily promote hemp and started publishing various benefits that hemp offered (i.e. findings that hemp produces 4 times more paper per acre than trees). The peak of the hemp promotion was when the US government released a pro-hemp documentary called Hemp for Victory, which encouraged farmers throughout the Midwest and Southeast to grow hemp to support the war. This led to over 400,000 acres of hemp being planted during 1942-1945
DRUG WAR LEADS TO THE DEMISE OF HEMP
Shortly after this program, the U.S. government went back to its original stance on hemp again and the industry continued to decline. Other alternative sources, such as plastic and nylon, were encourages across multiple industries. This led to fewer farmers cultivating hemp and many hemp processors declaring bankruptcy. The last commercial hemp farm in the U.S. was planted in Wisconsin in 1957. Hemp farming was eventually officially banned altogether in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in which hemp was included as a Schedule 1 drug, grouping this crop with drugs like heroin and LSD.
HEMP MAKES A COMEBACK
After almost 30 years of being forbidden, the U.S. allowed businesses to import dietary hemp products in 2004. In the new century, application of hemp started to diversify as artisans and small businesses imported hemp fiber for clothing and textiles. The first big win for U.S. farmers came in 2007, when two North Dakota farmers were granted hemp licenses—the first time in over 50 years. Building on this, a Farm Bill signed into law in 2014 allowed more states and some businesses to begin experimenting with hemp, under the guise of research into restoring this crop to American life. Ultimately, hemp and all its derivatives became fully legalized in 2018, through the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.
THE HEMP MOVEMENT GROWS
The return of legal hemp brought an explosion of interest in this crop and products made from hemp, especially CBD oil. Farmers licensed over 500,000 acres of hemp across 34 states in 2019. Less than half were actually planted and harvested. Producers turned most of the hemp harvested in 2018 and 2019 into CBD oil or hemp extract, the hyper-popular supplement with numerous benefits. Consumers drove CBD sales to over $1 billion in 2019. In addition, individual states continue to pass laws facilitating hemp growing and the production and sales of CBD supplements within their borders.
NEW CHALLENGES – A PROMISING FUTURE
While the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, other challenges remain for the new U.S. hemp industry. USDA regulations suggest the Drug Enforcement Administration wants to retain control over many aspects of the industry. The CBD industry awaits regulation from the Food and Drug Administration. Banking, credit card processors, and tech companies often refuse to work with hemp companies. At the same time, more farmers, entrepreneurs, and consumers are interested in hemp than ever before. A new infrastructure is growing to help farmers harvest and process their crops, while new people are discovering hemp and CBD every day. A Gallup poll in 2019 suggested 14% of Americans use CBD products. With a new U.S. hemp industry making history, the future looks bright for this beneficial multipurpose crop.
Interesting Little Known Stories About Hemp
In 1619, King James I decreed that the American colonists of Jamestown would need to step up efforts to do their fair share towards supporting England. The Virginia Company enacted the decree, asking Jamestown's land owners to grow and export 100 hemp plants to help support England's cause. Later the colonists would grow it to support its expansion in the Americas. Cannabis cultivation played a central role in the establishment of the United States, with cannabis appearing on the ten dollar bill as late as 1900. George Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon as one of his three primary crops. The use of hemp for rope and fabric later became ubiquitous throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. Medicinal preparations of cannabis became available in American pharmacies in the 1850s following an introduction to its use in Western medicine by William O'Shaughnessy a decade earlier in 1839.
Early Pharmaceutical and Recreational Use
Cannabis fluid extract medicine bottle
Around the same time, efforts to regulate the sale of pharmaceuticals began, and laws were introduced on a state-to-state basis that created penalties for mislabeling drugs, adulterating them with undisclosed narcotics, and improper sale of those considered "poisons". Poison laws generally either required labels on the packaging indicating the harmful effects of the drugs or prohibited sale outside of licensed pharmacies and without a doctor's prescription. Those that required labeling often required the word "poison" if the drug was not issued by a pharmacy. Other regulations were prohibitions on the sale to minors, as well as restrictions on refills. Some pharmaceutical laws specifically enumerated the drugs that came under the effect of the regulations, while others did not—leaving the matter to medical experts. Those that did generally included references to cannabis, either under the category of "cannabis and its preparations" or "hemp and its preparations."
A 1905 Bulletin from the United States Department of Agriculture lists twenty-nine states with laws mentioning cannabis. Eight states are listed with "sale of poisons" laws that specifically mention cannabis: North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Vermont, Maine, Montana; and the District of Columbia. Among those states that required a prescription for sale were Wisconsin and Louisiana. Several "sale of poison" laws did not specify restricted drugs, including in Indiana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Nebraska, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New York. Many states did not consider cannabis a "poison" but required it be labeled.
20th Century Criminalization
The decision of the United States Congress to pass the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was based on poorly attended hearings and reports based on questionable studies. In 1936 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) noticed an increase of reports of people smoking marijuana, which further increased in 1937. The Bureau drafted a legislative plan for Congress seeking a new law, and the head of the FBN, Harry J. Anslinger, ran a campaign against marijuana. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst's empire of newspapers used the "yellow journalism" pioneered by Hearst to demonize the cannabis plant and spread a public perception that there were connections between cannabis and violent crime. Several scholars argue that the goal was to destroy the hemp industry, largely as an effort of Hearst, Andrew Mellon and the Du Pont family. They argue that with the invention of the decorticator hemp became a very cheap substitute for the wood pulp that was used in the newspaper industry. However, Hearst newspapers owed large debts to Canadian suppliers of paper, who used wood as raw material. If an alternative raw material for paper had emerged, it would have lowered the price of the paper needed to print Hearst's many newspapers—a positive thing for Hearst. Moreover, by the year 1916 there were at least five "machine brakes" for hemp and it is unlikely that in 1930s hemp became a new threat for newspapers owners.
The company DuPont and many industrial historians dispute a link between nylon and hemp. They argue that the reason for developing nylon was to produce a fiber that could compete with silk and rayon in, for example, thin stockings for women. Silk was much more expensive than hemp and imported largely from Japan. There was more money in a substitute for silk. DuPont focused early on thin stockings for women. As a commercial product, nylon was a revolution in textiles. Strong and water-resistant, it was possible to make very thin fibers from cheap raw materials. The first sales in 1938 in New York of nylon stockings created a line with 4000 middle class women. For years to come, nylon demand was greater than DuPont could produce. And the DuPont Group was very big; it could move on if nylon had not become a success.
Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury, as well as the wealthiest man in America, and had invested heavily in nylon, DuPont's new synthetic fiber. He considered nylon's success to depend on it replacing the traditional resource, hemp.
In 1916, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) chief scientists Jason L. Merrill and Lyster H. Dewey created a paper, USDA Bulletin No. 404 "Hemp Hurds as Paper-Making Material", in which they stated that paper from the woody inner portion of the hemp stem broken into pieces, so called hemp hurds, was "favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood". Merrill and Dewey's findings were not repeated in a later book by Dewey and have not been confirmed by paper production experts. The consistency of long fibers is too low in hemp hurds for commercial papermaking. Numerous machines had been devised for breaking and scutching hemp fibers, but none had been found to be fully satisfactory in actual commercial work. To produce fiber from hemp was a labor-intensive process if harvest, transport and processing are included. Technological developments decreased the labor but not sufficiently to eliminate this disadvantage.
There was also a misconception about the intoxicating effects of hemp because it has the same active substance, THC, which is in all cannabis strains. Hemp normally has a minimal amount of THC when compared to recreational cannabis strains but, in the 1930s, THC was not yet fully identified. The methods FBN used for predicting the psychoactive effect of different samples of cannabis and hemp therefore gave confusing results.
By Woody Allen